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Perspective Of An Average Steelers Fan: Pittsburgh Gives Game Away

GAME PRELUDE

The Steelers faced the Baltimore Ravens at home. Lamar Jackson is not playing. An opportunity to stay relevant in the race for a playoff spot. If the offense could prevent costly turnovers and the defense shut down Baltimore’s rushing attack. Then the Steelers could conceivably win by a field goal or two.

I gave my tickets to friends. But decided to make the trip to Pittsburgh and roost in the rotunda with a group that hangs out there every game.

STEELERS OFFENSE

Kenny Pickett was knocked out of the game early. Mitch Trubisky led the Steelers on a touchdown drive. Then ends the first half with two interceptions.

Kenny Pickett Face-masked Out of Game

The Steelers tried passing on their first two plays. Kenny Pickett forced to scramble for three then 13 yards. Then Najee Harris ran twice to set up third and four. Kenny Pickett eluded one defender but as he stumbled Raquan Smith grabbed him by the facemask and slammed Pickett to the ground. No flag and Kenny headed to the medical tent. So ends the first possession.

Baltimore takes a 3-0 lead. Najee gets five on first down. But then only one on second. Pickett throws incomplete toward Jaylen Warren. Three and out. Ravens score two plays after Pressley Harvin’s weak punt bounces back for just 17 yards. It was 10-0.

Trubisky Enters Game and Pittsburgh Scores

The Steelers start at their 36 after a 29-yard Steven Sims kickoff return. Mitch Trubisky enters the game as Pickett initially cleared concussion protocol but may have another injury or subsequent symptoms occurred. Trubisky throws to Zach Gentry and the ball clanks off his hands. On third and nine, Trubisky connects with Pat Freiermuth for 14 yards. Then Pickens comes down with a deep pass down the left sideline for 42 yards at the seven.

Defensive pass interference moves the ball to the one. Najee stopped short of the goal line but extended the ball forward midleap to cross the plane of the goal line. 10-7!

Pittsburgh Throws away Two Scoring Opportunities

Baltimore muffs a play on fourth down to give Pittsburgh the ball at their own 36. Trubisky to Diontae Johnson for eight. Harris picks up the first down and more on a seven yard run. Najee runs eight more on first down. On third and one, Najee catches a short pass for seven yards and another Pittsburgh Steelers first down. Two Baltimore neutral zone infractions create a first down at the 19. On second and eight, Trubisky throws toward Freiermuth through several Baltimore defenders. Raquan Smith intercepts ending Pittsburgh’s brief visit to the redzone.

Ravens scored three off the takeaway. The Steelers start at the 25 with 1:03 left in the half. Trubisky passes right to Diontae for 11. Then he passes deeper to Pickens who makes a great catch at the sideline for 25 yards. Pass short right to Gunner Olszewski for seven and a timeout. Trubisky passes left to Freiermuth for nine and another timeout. Then Trubisky throws down the middle for Freiermuth but Queen intercepts ending the drive at the eight yard line. Halftime score is 13-7 with two scoring opportunities thrown away.

Third Quarter Offensive drought

Pittsburgh offense starts the second half from the 25. On third and four, Trubisky finds Diontae Johnson for 14. Jaylen Warren runs for four. On second and six, Diontae tackled on a very short pass for one yard. Trubisky passes to Sims on third and five who only gains two yards before pushed out of bounds.

Pittsburgh and Baltimore exchange punts. From the 11, Najee runs for one. Then Sims gains 11 on a short pass. Trubisky passes to Najee for another first down. Then back to Sims for 11. Diontae Johnson takes a short pass to the Baltimore 46 for a first down. Trubisky overthrows Diontae and M Williams intercepts the ball at the one. Another drive thrown away.

Pittsburgh Reaches Redzone Twice, Scores Once

Despite three interceptions, the game is still just 13-7 as the fourth quarter nears. The third quarter ends with Mitch Trubisky passing to Pickens for 11 yards. That will be Pickens’ last reception of the game. On third and nine, Trubisky completes pass to Warren for 14. Then Warren picks up eight on the ground. And 15 more yards tacked on for Baltimore unnecessary roughness. First down at 19. Warren runs for two. Trubisky was sacked. Trubisky unable to connect with Diontae on third and 13. Boswell lines up to pull within three. But the 40 yard field goal was blocked.

Baltimore scored three to go up by nine points. Trubisky throws to Diontae for 37 yards on second down. Plus, Baltimore called for hitting Trubisky late. Honestly, it looked like he was hit as he released it. But after the missed Pickett facemask I’ll take it. Trubisky throws high to Connor Heyward who comes down with the ball. Tough catch for 13 yards. Steelers first and goal at the 10. Two offsetting penalties on second down. How can both players be guilty? Humphrey was pulling Diontae down by the arm. Regardless, Trubisky hit Freiermuth over the middle for the score. 16-14.

Unfortunately, the defense cannot stop Baltimore. And Pittsburgh does not get another chance. Game over.

STEELERS DEFENSE

The Steelers defense gave up 13 first half points. Forced two punts in the third quarter. But could not stop the run in the fourth quarter.

Good Start but Ravens Score First

The Steelers defense looked hot on the opening drive. Cam Sutton stopped J Dobbins for no gain on the first play. Then broke up a Huntley pass intended for Mark Andrews. I thought he had a chance to intercept but maybe asking too much. Huntley passes on third and ten. Levi Wallace stopped the receiver just short of the sticks. A three and out is a good start.

Ravens start their next possession at the 25 with game still scoreless. Dobbins runs twice for eight yards. T.J. Watt prevented Huntley from getting the first down. But in a risky move from their own 34, Harbaugh goes for it on fourth down and Huntley gets the necessary yardage. Huntley completes a first down pass to  D Robinson for 11 yards. Then another to Robinson for 23 yards. First down at the 28-yard line. Gus Edwards gains four. But Huntley throws two incompletions. On comes Justin Tucker to put Baltimore up 3-0.

Ravens 44-Yard Run Puts Pittsburgh in a Hole

Defense at their own 48 after Harvin’s 17-yard punt. On first down, Dobbins runs right up the middle through a gaping hole. Minkah Fitzpatrick catches him at the four. Then Dobbins takes a direct snap and somehow snakes his way through defenders for the touchdown. Suddenly it was 10-0.

Trubisky leads a drive to make it 10-7. Huntley completes a pass to D Jackson for nine yards on the final play of the first quarter. Edwards runs nine more for the first. Then Edwards for 16. Chris Wormley and Tyson Alualu combined to sack Huntley on first down. Huntley scrambles for 11. Then to the right again for four. T.J. Watt crashing down the line leaving no one to contain the edge. Baltimore goes for it again on fourth down. But Huntley fumbles, recovers, but cannot reach the sticks as he lunges forward. Steelers ball.

Defense Gives up Three More

Baltimore has ball at 29 after Trubisky’s first interception. Robert Spillane tackles the catch on second and seven for no gain. But Huntley buys time on third down and completes a 25-yard pass to Jackson. Dobbins runs for six. Officials add five more calling Montravius Adams for defensive holding. Huntley scrambles for nine. Then Edwards for the first down at the two minute warning. First down at 20. Cam Heyward tackles Huntley for just two yards. On third down, Alex Highsmith and Watt apply heavy pressure on Huntley who throws incomplete for tight end Andrews. Tucker makes it 13-7. Huntley will touch the ball one more time following the second interception to kneel out the half.

Defense Forces Two Third Quarter Punts

Baltimore starts at the 20 after a touchback to start the second half. Dobbins gains 15 yards on two runs. Then Huntley passes to Andrews for ten yards to the 45. Edwards runs twice for six setting up third and four. Huntley runs for three and is walloped by Minkah Fitzpatrick. An official immediately throws a flag. Initially, I thought the NFL giving Huntley the protection they failed to give Kenny Pickett on the facemask. But after a brief conference the flag is picked up and Baltimore punts. But Huntley is out of the game.

After the third interception, Baltimore was on their one-yard line with third string quarterback Anthony Brown in his first NFL game. Brown passes on first down from the back of the end zone. Where is the Pittsburgh defense? He throws to the sideline for three yards. Then Dobbins runs for 11 taking Baltimore out of immediate danger. Then Chris Wormley forces a fumble. Players in a pile. While they are still fighting for possession, officials announce that it is in joint possession and Baltimore retains the ball. On the next play, Brown throws incomplete, but Chris Wormley goes down with a knee injury. On third and nine, the pocket collapses and T.J. Watt sacks Brown. Baltimore punts near the end of the third quarter.

Defense Can’t Stop Run

Chris Boswell’s field goal attempt is blocked. Three interceptions and a blocked kick and it was still only 13-7 with 11:14 to play. The Steelers defense knows that Baltimore will run with a third string quarterback playing. Baltimore proceeds to run on nine of 12 plays. Three straight runs gain 11 yards for a first. Then Brown completes two of three passes for 13 yards to the Pittsburgh 46. Practically within Tucker’s range. Three straight runs to the right for 14, six, and seven yards. It’s not Watt, Devin Bush, or Myles Jack making the tackles. Its safeties Fitzpatrick and Damontae Kazee. Then three runs to the left. Kazee and Devin Bush tackle Edwards for one yard loss. But then Bush tackles Edwards after seven yard gain. Spillane and Terrell Edmunds stop Dobbins for no gain. But the damage is done. Baltimore at the 13-yard line, eaten nearly eight minutes off the clock. And Tucker makes it a two score game. Fans start filing out of the stadium.

But Pittsburgh scored to come within two. Fans have stopped leaving. They are cheering loudly. If the defense can stop Baltimore there is still a chance to come away with a victory. There is 2:24 to play. Pittsburgh has two timeouts. Edwards runs left for six. Pittsburgh timeout. Edwards runs right for one with Adams and Heyward stopping him. Pittsburgh uses final timeout. Third and three with 2:14 to play. It’s simple. The defense stops Baltimore and there is a chance. If Baltimore gets the first down, the game is over. Everyone knows Baltimore is running. Edwards runs off right tackles. The front seven fails and Fitzpatrick tackles him after a six yard gain. The exodus from the stadium recommences.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Special teams are an underappreciated facet of the game where one big play can shift momentum or even decide the game winner.

I break special teams into three phases: Kickoffs, punting, and field goals including extra point attempts. Here is an overview of the special teams play during the game:

KICKOFFS

Chris Boswell returned to play from a groin injury. He kicked off three times. All three returned. Devin Duvernay returned the first 19 yards to the 25. Miles Boykin and Damontae Kazee tackled him at the 25. The next went 64 yards and returned 22 yards to the 23 before Arthur Maulet tackled Justice Hill. His final kick went 61 yards with Hill returning 21 yards with Maulet on the tackle. During the pregame, I noticed Boswell kicking to the goal line. I timed his hang time which was around 3.75 seconds.

Justin Tucker kicked off five times. His second kick went 58 yards with Stephen Sims returning the ball 29 yards to the 36. The rest were touchbacks. They did not want to give Sims another opportunity to break one. I timed Tucker in pregame and on his one return. His hangtime was about 4.18 seconds. More than a quarter second than Boswell.

Pittsburgh kicked short of the goal line purposefully. They had Baltimore starting behind the 25 twice.

THE STATS

Kickoffs KOs RTN TB OB IN25 Pen Start Avg
Chris Boswell 3 3 0 0 2 0 BAL 23.0
Justin Tucker 5 1 4 0 0 0 PGH 27.2

 

Kickoff Returns KR Yds AVG Long Pen TD
Stephen Sims 1 29 29.0 29 0 0
Justice Hill 2 39 19.5 22 0 0
Devin Duvernay 1 19 19.0 19 0 0

 

Advantage Steelers.

PUNTING

Pressley Harvin punted three times. His first went 46 yards but returned nine yards. After last week’s great punt, this week he punted his worst. A short punt that caromed up the field for just 17 yards. That led to Baltimore’s only touchdown. His last punt went 48 yards. Baltimore’s returners screened out the gunner, so he didn’t have a chance to keep the ball in play.

Jordan Stout punted three times, averaging 41.3 yards a punt. Steven Sims tried to return the first 43 yarder but was tackled for no gain. Sims fair caught the second punt at the 11-yard line. Sims hesitated as a blocker waved him to the right. He gained six yards. However, James Pierre caught holding on to the play. So instead of having the ball at their 48, the drive started at the 32-yard line. This was the drive ending with Boswell’s blocked kick.

THE STATS

Punting Punts AVG Net TB OB/D IN20 Pen Long
Pressley Harvin 3 37.0 27.3 1 1 0 0 48
Jordan Stout 3 41.3 41.3 0 0 1 0 46

 

Punt Returns PR Yds AVG FC Pen Long TD
Stephen Sims 2 0 0.0 1 1 6* 0
Devin Duvernay 1 9 9.0 0 0 9 0

*Penalty negated Sims return

Advantage Ravens

FIELD GOALS and EXTRA POINTS

Boswell made both PAT’s. But his 40 yard field goal attempt was blocked. Strong play by Calais Campbell. But was Boswell’s timing off since missing some games?

Justin Tucker had a PAT. Plus field goals of 42, 35, and 30 yards. Chip shots for him.

THE STATS

FGs and PATs XPM XPA FGM FGA Long 2PTM 2PTA
Chris Boswell 2 2 0 1 0 0 0
Justin Tucker 1 1 3 3 42 0 0

 

Advantage Ravens

DAVE BRYAN’S VICTORY PUNCH LIST

Dave Bryan provided five keys for a Steelers victory. Here is how the Steelers performed them:

  1. Limit Huntley on the ground. Huntley ran nine times for 31 yards before leaving the game. Huntley converted a fourth down but missed several attempts for first downs before taking a hard hit from Minkah Fitzpatrick forcing him out of the game. Mission Accomplished.
  2. Kenny doesn’t throw an interception. Kenny Pickett left the game early. And Mitch Trubisky threw three interceptions. So, by proxy … Mission Failure.
  3. Score a third quarter touchdown. Pittsburgh punted away the first possession of the second half. Then threw a red zone interception on the second. Mission Failure.
  4. Hold Mark Andrews under 63 receiving yards and no scoring. Andrews caught two passes for 17 yards. Mission Accomplished.
  5. Create more explosive plays than the Ravens. Pittsburgh made four plays over 20 yards to Baltimore’s three. But just not enough to overcome the takeaways. Mission Accomplished.

The Steelers accomplished three of the five keys to victory. But three interceptions are too much to overcome.

YOUR HOT TAKES DURING THE GAME

Thank you, Ross McCorkle, for keeping us posted on the game’s first and second half Live Update and Discussion Threads. Steelers Depot respondents contributed  992 first half comments.  Respondents added  1099 more second half comments.  Here are the “best comments” of the game. I don’t know the algorithm used by Disqus but here is how they stacked it up:

Mateo K  on a roll. He captured the top four comments of the first half. First on the defense noting, “This defense is such a letdown. They’re extremely overrated in my eyes.” Then, special teams: “I say it every week… how is Harvin STILL on this team, how???” He laid it down with, “This is the real Steelers team. We played two terrible teams the past two weeks. This Ravens team isn’t great, but it just shows how bad we are.” Concluding, “And… playoffs should not be mentioned again this year.”

After another interception, Chris92021 got best second half comment. Many folks agree with, “Ball game. Rudolph should be the backup or starter next week if 8 can’t go. Even idiots like Mark Madden can’t defend Trubisky after this.”

Alevin16 wondered what happened to George Pickens, “So basically 14 was eating them up so we stop throwing to him?”

RyanM saw lost opportunities: “Imagine where we’d be without those redzone picks and the blocked field goal.”

Bearorbull proposed a solution: “Man, we need to add some serious beef to both our OL and DL lines this offseason.”

CONCLUSIONS

Special teams gave up a blocked field goal and Pressley Harvin’s anemic 17-yard punt.

The defense could not stop Baltimore’s running attack in the fourth quarter when a stop on third and three could have given Pittsburgh a chance to win at the end.

But Mitch Trubisky throwing three interceptions destroyed an opportunity to stay relevant in the playoff picture. Review of the all-22 will confirm who was at fault. But at least two were clearly on Mitch.

Don’t know the status of Kenny Pickett. He’ll start the week in the concussion protocol. But when Raquan Smith wrangled Pickett over by his facemask, I’m afraid he may have injured his shoulder. If Pickett is unavailable. Should Mike Tomlin start Mason Rudolph pr stick with Mitch? On to Carolina. Here we go.

YOUR MUSIC SELECTION

I always like to offer a music selection. The Steelers gave away an opportunity to stay relevant. Here is Give it Away by the Red Hot Chili Peppers

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